Shipping on verge of digital revolution


“The shipping industry is on the verge of a new technology revolution, and the combination of sensor networks, connectivity at sea, data analytics and computer power is driving digitalization at sea,” Christos Chryssakis, principal researcher and group leader for Energy Efficiency and Fuels at DNV GL, said.

Ship owners have started to wake up to the benefits of digitalization and the internet of things (IoT), and two early adopters of machine-to-machine communications — United Arab Shipping Co. and Maersk Line — are linking networks of sensors on their ships to onshore servers, and analyzing the condition and performance of onboard systems.

As ship systems become linked to the internet over satellite, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications could lead to the remote control of ships, improving operational efficiencies and reducing maintenance costs.

“Digitalization will change how owners manage vessels and bring changes to shipbuilders and manufacturers,” class society DNV GL’s Chryssakis explained. He said he expects that all classed ships will be connected to broadband and many owners will use this for remote monitoring, remote diagnostics and condition-based maintenance.

The information will improve operational efficiencies and vessel management, and enable owners to enhance onboard system performance and evaluate vessel operations more effectively.

“There will be more automation and remote operation of navigation and propulsion systems. We are seeing pilot projects for the remote monitoring of propulsion systems.

This will be standard in 10 years’ time,” Chryssakis said. This means real-time analytics of onboard systems will be widely used by shipowners.

“Real-time analytics is available because of the sensors. There could be several megabytes of data transmitted from vessels to shore offices, so we need good analytics tools. With data we can do condition-based maintenance, failure forecasting and dynamic barrier management,” Chryssakis added.

It is expected that within the next 5-10 years, the trend of using sensor networks and high power satellite communications will be adopted as standard in the shipping industry, according to DNV GL. It said the digitization of ships and fleets will be the main driver of innovation and business by all major shipping companies.

Chryssakis said there were still several challenges to overcome before IoT technology can be widely used in shipping. This includes improving the quality assurance of data and the reliability of sensors, as well as ensuring that the data stream is secure from cyber threats.

“There are still sensor problems, so we need systems that can recognise this. But when we have reliability of sensors that are as good as humans, then the use of sensors will be standard. There will be data centers for analytics and new shipping business models,” he explained.

The data analytics could lead to more support for crew from shore, where system experts would be on hand to provide advice. It could also be used to improve the design of ships and onboard systems to make them more effective, efficient and streamlined.

These predictions were within DNV GL’s Technology Outlook 2025, which the class society published in May. Other technical drivers that DNV GL predicted included condition-based maintenance and inspection replacing periodic maintenance of machinery, and the development of the digital twin of a ship for technical lifecycle management and further design improvements.


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